Aussie Open withdrawal more reason for Andy Murray to prove doubters wrong

Andy Murray pulled out of the Australian Open, and now the question is how long will he be out of action? EPA/GLENN HUNT

Like most elite athletes, Andy Murray hears the doubters, but doesn't care. The only voice that matters is his own. From those who said the spindly teenager, who burst onto the circuit at Wimbledon in 2005, was too skinny and lacked the mental strength to be a future Grand Slam winner, or those who doubted his ability to be the world's top-ranked player, Murray has delighted in doing things his way and making the cynics eat their words. When he is questioned, you can see the determination in his piercing eyes.

Murray has strung together a fantastic career largely because of his competitive spirit, belief and tactical nous. But he is also a player who was born with massive talent and athleticism. He'll need all these attributes to come back to the tour after withdrawing from the Australian Open on Thursday, a decision that could ultimately extend to a six-month absence from the court.

Murray's decision to skip Melbourne was no surprise, given a hip injury that has dogged him since last May. After all, he hasn't played competitively since Wimbledon last summer. But having made the journey to Australia, this has to be a blow to his psyche and a huge frustration after the months of rehabilitation. Murray still hopes he can return to the tour without surgery -- a decision that does not guarantee he would be 100 percent, even if he does elect for that option.

Needless to say, the news has not been good for Murray just days into the new year. He has always been coy about the exact nature of the hip problem, so it's impossible to know exactly what it will entail to get him back on tour fully fit. He doesn't want to undergo surgery -- that much he made clear -- perhaps remembering how tough it was to come back when he had a back operation in 2013.

But let's not start writing the Andy Murray tennis obit yet. It took some time, but he returned from his 2013 surgery and led Britain to Davis Cup glory two years later, then captured his third major, at Wimbledon, in 2016, setting up an even stronger run to close out the year as the world No. 1 player.

We might never hear it from Murray himself, but that effort, and all the exertion, could have been a major factor in his hip issue. Murray has grinded for 12 years on tour and arguably has worked harder than anyone to leap up the rankings and into the upper echelon of the game. We'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who has covered more ground or run more miles than he has in search of success.

This is a man who had the desire and ambition to leave home in Scotland for Spain as a 15-year-old. Murray built himself into a supreme athlete with hours and hours of dedication in the gym and on the court. As a child, his competitive fire would lead to confrontations with his older brother, Jamie Murray. Andy could probably reel off their head-to-head stats across any game they ever played together.

"There are different stages in the year where someone says that you can't do something or people think that you're struggling or that you might be coming towards the end," Murray said during Wimbledon last summer. "Having that little bit of extra motivation can help."

His message on Instagram on Tuesday as he announced his withdrawal from the Brisbane International captured the hearts of many fellow players, including Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, both of whom said they hope he returns soon. But his latest decision to bypass the Aussie Open suggests his absence could be longer than originally expected.

Long before Murray won the 2012 U.S. Open, he said that if his career ended without a Grand Slam title, it would be because he wasn't good enough. Clearly, he was. Murray has proved he is good enough time after time. Now he has to prove people wrong all over again. Perhaps he will return a more aggressive player, one who relies less on his legs and more on efficiency and power.

With a young family, long-term health has to be his No. 1 concern and, in the end, his aching body could decide his future sooner than he would desire. But if there is a way back, Murray will find it. And he'll enjoy proving the doubters wrong.